Napolitano: Many FBI agents felt demeaned by Comey's actions
This is a rush transcript from "The Story," May 9, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
MARTHA MACCALUM, "THE STORY" HOST: Breaking tonight, FBI Director James Comey, has been fired by President Trump. News that is rocking our nation's capital and beyond tonight. President Trump terminated the FBI Director from that position following recommendations by his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Deputy Attorney General. The removal of the FBI Head is only the second time that has happened in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The President in his statement said a lot but part of what he said at the beginning is this. The FBI is one of our nation's most cherished and respected institutions. Today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement. Many arguing that this move was long coming, that it can be traced back to these words perhaps by Mr. Comey last July. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION DIRECTOR: Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive highly classified information. Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MACCALLUM: No reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Those are words perhaps that have come back to haunt James Comey. Reaction is pouring in. We're going to get to a lot of it throughout the course of this hour but first let's go to Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts who is standing by with the very latest details on this huge breaking news out of the White House today. Good evening, John.
JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you Martha. To say that this was a bolt out of the blue is an understatement. It's something that hit even the head of the FBI, blindsided him. I don't think that he was expecting any of this to happen, certainly the rank-and-file of the FBI not expecting this to happen. I was told that all of this happened very recently as well. You know, when you look at this, and this doesn't -- this doesn't have anything to do with anything recent except maybe the testimony that James Comey gave recently before Congress, but this goes all the way back to July 5th of the last year when he gave that now famous press conference at which he cited all the things that Hillary Clinton did wrong in terms of the stewardship of her email, which she should have done and on the fact that he said that she didn't think that she -- he didn't think that she deserve prosecution.
But let me read a little bit from a letter from Rod Rosenstein who is the newly minted Deputy Attorney General over there at the Department of Justice who said that I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General's authority on July 5th, 2016, speaking of Loretta Lynch here and announced his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. And then, this kind of speaks to what happened last week because this is when he came out and said look, when I saw that meeting on the tarmac between President Clinton, former President Clinton and Loretta Lynch, I felt I had to act. The Deputy Attorney General says the Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict.
But the Director of the FBI is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. So Rod Rosenstein basically saying here that Comey basically took the law into his own hands and kind of rewrote the law here, and did something that he absolutely should not have done. But the fact that this comes at the beginning of May, almost a year after it happened, really has a lot of people scratching their heads as to how long was this investigation going on? How long was this bothering the President? Why did it suddenly come to this? A lot of unanswered questions but the White House press office launching already a kind of preemptive strike against what's coming out of Capitol Hill in terms of Democrats saying the President has acted in a Nixonian fashion by taking the Head and literally taking off the Head of the FBI Director saying -- Senator Schumer said about the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein quote, "he has developed a reputation for integrity. He has promised to give this careful consideration."
And this really was Rosenstein's investigation that the Attorney General and the President concurred with. And saying of Comey this was Schumer back on November the second of last year, Schumer said he does not have confidence Comey any longer for his decision to send a letter reopening the investigation into Clinton's private server. So the White House reminding people of what Schumer said before Schumer comes out of Capitol Hill and is expected to in the next few minutes. Martha kind of saying when you listen to what he has to say, careful to consider what he had said in the weeks before this.
MACCALLUM: Yes. John, before I let you go, the sentences that are getting the most attention in the President's letter is while I greatly appreciate you informing me -- and this was Director Comey -- on three separate occasions that I'm not under investigation, I nevertheless concur the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are -- that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau. Has the White House had any response to the reasoning for putting those sentences into this letter?
ROBERTS: Not at this point and everybody right now is laying awfully low. But the beginning of that paragraph reads like one of the hundreds of tweets of the President would send out on a daily basis to say, he's told me a number of times that I'm not under investigation. It's basically saying that thank you for exonerating me, now get out. And don't forget that the President in the last 24 hours has reiterated that he believes this whole investigation, this whole story about any kind of collusion between the Trump organization and the Russians ever trying to influence the election is an absolute non story, hash-tag fake news is he likes to say. But just extraordinary A, to see an FBI Director fired, I think it's only the second time that that's ever happened. B, that it comes out of the blue like it did and C, that it's about Hillary Clinton. I mean, this is really incredible tonight, Martha.
MACCALLUM: So many layers to dig into. John, thank you so much. John Roberts at the White House. Joing us now, Fox News Contributor and former Senior Adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove and Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano and by phone, former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom. And I actually want to start with James Kallstrom who knows James Comey quite well. Jim, what is your reaction to this?
JAMES KALLSTROM, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (via telephone): I'm glad it happened. I think Jim Comey -- you know, way back almost a year ago kind of forgot he was the FBI Director. And rather than stand up and tell the American people that the Attorney General wouldn't allow a grand jury investigation to actually do a federal investigation of Hillary Clinton, which might have had the democratic party pulled back from being the nominee which would have changed -- would have changed the whole outcome possibly. Jim Comey dance with the devil and later on down the road talked about this great investigation the FBI conducted because they have no subpoena power. They couldn't compel any testimony, they couldn't compel any investigation or search warrants so they had to beg people to look at things. The interview of Hillary Clinton in my view was a sham. So he made a lot of mistakes. I think he's basically a good guy. He was lacking common sense and it's time for new leadership in the FBI.
MACCALLUM: You said a lot there Jim and I think the headline is that you believe that the Obama administration never had any suggestion that they were going to bring any charges against Hillary Clinton for any of this and that Jim Comey ended up in some way toeing the line that the White House was putting out on that and you have to wonder when he looks back at what happened today if he doesn't wish that back then, he had stood up and resigned in the face of all of that. And I think a lot of people thought that he might back then, Jim.
KALLSTOM (via telephone): That's what he should have done. That's the director of the FBI should have done rather than just go along with what he went along with. And by going along with what he went along with, he threw the FBI under the bus and the reputation of the FBI under the bus. And that's what I am very mad about and have been very mad about fora long time.
MACCALLUM: Let me ask you this because we're already hearing from Democrats and even the President's lines in his own letter about the Russia investigation, the fact that Jim Comey had exonerated him from any -- you know, connection to that three times. What do you think about that because there's going to be inevitable discussion and pressure that that's why the President fired him.
KALLSTROM (via telephone): Well, I don't know what Jim Comey has told him but from press reports, the Deputy Director who I hope does not the Acting Director apparently according to news reports, I guess their true. I've never heard denials of him. The Deputy Director told the Chief of Staff at the White House month and months ago quote, "this whole thing about Russia is a bunch of B.S.." So, you know, what's going on here? I don't know. It defies logic.
MACCALLUM: All right. Jim, I'm going to jump in, standby. Chuck Schumer, Senator Schumer now in front of the microphone, let's listen.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-NY, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Firing Director Comey. I told the President, Mr. President, with all due respect, you're making a big mistake. The first question the administration has to answer is why now? If the administration had objections to the way Director Comey handled the Clinton investigation,they had those objections the minute the President got into office. But they didn't fire them then. Why did it happen today?
We know the House is investigating Russian interference in our elections that benefited the Trump campaign. We know the Senate is investigating. We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, a very serious offense. Were these investigations getting too close to home for the President? It is troubling that Attorney General Sessions who would recuse himself from the Russian investigation, played a role in firing the man leading it. So what happens now? Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein sat in the judiciary committee and promised to appoint a special prosecutor at the appropriate time. That time is right now.
The American people's trust in our criminal justice system is in Rosenstein's hands. Mr. Rosenstein, America depends on you to restore faith in our criminal justice system. Which is going to be badly shattered after the administration's actions today. This is part of a deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration. They fired Sally Yates, they fired Preet Bharara. And now, they fired Director Comey, the very man leading the investigation. This does not seem to be a coincidence.
This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone that President Trump has appointed. Given the way the President fired Director Comey, any person who he appoints to lead the Russia investigation will be concerned that he or she will meet the same fate as Director Comey if they run afoul of the administration. The American people need to have faith that an investigation as serious as this one is being conducted impartially without a shred of bias. The only way the American people can have faith in this investigation is it - is it - is for it to be led by a fearless, independent special prosecutor. If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up. I'll take one or two questions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you suggesting that this was a part of a cover-up and did you convey to President Trump today that he should appoint - that a special prosecutor should be appointed, and what was his reaction to your response?
SCHUMER: I simply said to him, "Mr. President, with all due respect, you're making a very big mistake." And he didn't really answer. And I have said from the get-go that I think a special prosecutor is the way to go, but now, with what's happened, it is the only way to go, only way to go to restore the American people's faith. Are people going to suspect cover-up? Absolutely. If an independent special prosecutor is appointed, there still can be some faith that we can get to the bottom of this. If not, everyone will suspect cover-up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you suggesting -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Schumer, you told me last year before the election that you have lost confidence with Jim Comey because of how he handled the e-mail scandal. Do you think that the President's explanation and this is the reason why he's firing him now has credibility with you, do you believe that, or do you think that he's firing him for another reason?
SCHUMER: I never - I never called on the President to fire Director Comey. I have a lot of questions about how he handled himself, but the overwhelming question is this, if the administration have those same questions, the events occurred months ago and they should have fired Comey on the day they came into office. All of them occurred before he came into office. So, that does not seem to me to be very logical or persuasive explanation. Thank you, everybody.
MACCALLUM: All right. There is Senator Chuck Schumer of New York with some very strong words about this situation. Let's bring in Judge Napolitano. Let's bring in Karl Rove to discuss what all of this means. Judge Napolitano, let me start with you. For a very long time, you have believed that the testimony that he gave, or the statement that he gave back in July really should have forced him out of office then.
ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: Yes. I have argued here and in writing that his behavior violated very strong and widely-respected regulations of the Department of Justice and the FBI, namely. You don't make a recommendation to the Attorney General in public, you don't usurp the responsibility of your superiors in public, and when you do recommend, no prosecution, you don't then list all the damning evidence against the person that you're recommending not be prosecuted. But the problem goes a little deeper than that. When he sort of affected negatively the public perception of him by exonerating Mrs. Clinton but condemning her at the same time, he also disaffected many, many, agents, field agents and agents that worked with him in the FBI headquarters.
They believe that still believe him, and Jim Kallstrom was quite correct on this. That he demeaned their work, undermined their integrity, and then, when the Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin laptop incident occurred, which turned out to be fruitless towards the investigation, reopening it two weeks before Election Day, the FBI field agents believe he dragged the nation's premier and politically neutral, priding itself on being politically neutral law enforcement entity into the middle of a Presidential Election campaign, a place they never wanted to go, didn't belong, and now we see the fruits of that.
MACCALLUM: Yes. Karl, the biggest question here appears to be the timing because we all know that both republicans and democrats throughout the course of this whole process have, you know, sort of taken turns going anti-Jim Comey and wanting him out. But the timing of this is what is so interesting and so perhaps political as you have been hearing from Chuck Schumer. What do you think?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think Chuck Schumer is just being a political hack. There's obvious reason why it happened now, and that is, when President Trump got into office and President Trump began to install officials over at the Justice Department, this matter was turned over to Rod Rosenstein, who is a first-rate individual. He served as a U.S. attorney under President George W. Bush. And then as a U.S. attorney under President Barack Obama. He is completely apolitical. He did a superb job on both administrations. He looked into this - I tell you, John Roberts did a good thing by putting the focus in his report on that letter, and I hope people go online and read it, because he lays out the case there as Judge Napolitano just did, that the rule of law was violated by Director Comey in July.
We've had since the founding of our country, a division between the investigatory power of the police and the prosecutorial decision. We have divided those two, and he took it upon himself in July to step across that boundary without any authority of statute or practice and say, I am making the decision, not the Attorney General, or if she recused herself, the head of the National Security division. I'm making the decision and as the judge so ably pointed out, then proceeded to do what no prosecutor should do, which is have a bill of particulars about somebody that you're not indicting. I think he equally violated as this - as individual FBI agents have told me the standard and practices of the Department of Justice and FBI, by stepping into the fall election.
And in Rosenstein's letter, he quotes from Judge Laurence Silberman, very respected jurist from republican and democrat officials in the Justice Department, Larry Thompson, Mike Mukasey, former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, former Attorney General, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Clinton justice official Jamie Gorelick, about how he had violated these fundamental rules, and of course, Rosenstein did his review, did his due diligence, presented to the President and the President acted. And for Chuck Schumer to have opposed and said, I have no confidence in October in Comey, and today, be trying to find some deep dark cover-up, I thought that was a smear and a libel that was unbelievable from the Democratic leader in the Senate.
MACCALLUM: Understood, Karl, but, you know, I mean, that's exactly what the charge is going to be from the left. They're going to say, you know -
MACCALLUM: Why now? We just looked at the video in the corner of our screen of the moment when the President welcomed a lot of the justice officials to the Oval Office, he called out Jim Comey, come on over, say hi. I want to just play a sound bite that is very interesting that is from an interview that Maria Bartiromo did recently when she sat down with President Trump. Let's listen to this and then we want to get Jim Kallstrom's thoughts and then we'll go back to the judge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK MORNINGS WITH MARIA HOST: Was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the offset of your presidency? Is it too late now to ask him to step down?
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: No, it's not too late but, you know, I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MACCALLUM: Let's see what happens. Jim Kallstrom, let me bring you back in, listening to all of this conversation. What do you think?
KALLSTROM (through telephone): Well, I think he did the right thing. I think if he had done this as soon as he came in, you know, the criticism would've been the same. The criticism would be the same no matter what. I mean, the lord himself could make this judgment and the criticism would be the same. I think it was - it's the - was the correct thing to do to have the deputy Attorney General, who is a great guy, who I know personally, look into this thing and write the letter --
MACCALLUM: Who was just confirmed, by the way.
KALLSTROM (through telephone): -- and write the letter that he wrote and make - and give the President the real ammunition he needed to pull the trigger on this thing.
MACCALLUM: Yes. Jim, thank you very much. I actually want to bring in Catherine Herridge who is standing by with some new reporting on all of this. Chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge joins us now. Catherine?
CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Martha. I've spoken to nearly a half a dozen former FBI officials who told me that people at the bureau and headquarters here in Washington were essentially blindsided by this decision and there was nothing this afternoon that was being telegraphed within the FBI that the FBI Director was going to be fired by this President, and they emphasized to me that if Director Comey had known, had any advance warning, he would have sent some kind of notification to the entire workforce. He also indicated to me that there were deep divisions within the FBI about the director that he had become a truly polarizing figure.
On this issue of the timing, they back up this assessment, that really, the timing has to do with something very simple which was the confirmation of Rod Rosenstein to Deputy Attorney General. He is the one figuring all of this who is not tainted or touched if you will, by the e-mail case or the Russian investigation. His boss, Jeff Sessions, said that he would not involve himself in either of these issues. So, Rosenstein was able to come into office, April 25th, and essentially embark on a fact-finding expedition here based on the letter he interviewed or spoke with former Attorneys General and other senior law enforcement over whether the FBI Director had, last year, (INAUDIBLE) outside the lines, put on a prosecutors hat when he was really the chief investigator.
OK. So, one of the questions now is who comes next at the FBI? And I've spoken with some former agents who are already expressing deep concern about FBI Director Comey's deputy Andrew McCabe. Andrew McCabe is going to be a familiar name to many people because in 2015, Andrew McCabe's wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, ran for State Senate in Virginia, and in the process, took in excess of $700,000 from state democrats including a PAC that's run by a longtime Clinton ally, Governor Gary -- Terry MCauliffe. The FBI concluded that this was not a conflict for McCabe to stay involved later in the e-mail investigation.
But my contacts say that that decision alone showed that the culture within the FBI was truly broken. That they did not understand that this, at least, had the appearance of a conflict of interest. It's possible in this situation that the Justice Department could leapfrog over McCabe, it would be highly unusual but we're in highly-unusual territory, and go to McCabe's associate, deputy director (INAUDIBLE). This is someone who isn't tainted by the e-mails or the Russia case based on my reporting, and showed a lot of ability during the San Bernardino terrorist attack investigation.
Final point, if I can, so there's already a name that's circulating along my contacts, not as someone necessarily who will be recommended by this administration but certainly someone who they think would have the ability to step into this role as FBI Director and that's John Pistole. John Pistole was a former TSA administrator, but before that, he had almost a three-decade career at the FBI, and he has strong ties back at Indiana and the Vice President Mike Pence, so he would seem to check a lot of the boxes, and we're going to try and get in touch with him this evening, Martha.
MACCALLUM: Interesting. Catherine, thank you very much.
HERRIDGE: You're welcome.
MACCALLUM: So, let's bring in Marc Thiessen, former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Fox News contributor; and Matt Bennett, former deputy assistant to President Clinton and cofounder of Third Way. Gentlemen, welcome. Obviously, everybody is still sort of absorbing this huge story that broke late this afternoon. Matt, let me bring you in first and get your thoughts, your reaction.
MATT BENNETT, THIRD WAY COFOUNDER AND FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I'm struck by the lack of conversation about the fact that the President just fired the guy leading the investigation into whether the Trump team was in cahoots with the Russians. I mean, this is an enormously serious thing. And isn't just political leaders like Senator Schumer that are making this charge. There's all kinds of legal scholars on Twitter and on television saying that this is one of the most serious constitutional crises that we have faced, maybe since Watergate. And it's just laughable on its face to think that the President fired Comey because he felt he was unfair to Hillary Clinton. I mean, give me a break, this guy didn't even want to fire Michael Flynn, and the idea that he's going to fire someone because they didn't treat Clinton right during thecampaign is ridiculous.
MACCALLUM: Marc Thiessen.
MARC THIESSEN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. Well, I mean, but that is the reason. That is the reason why the FBI, and why the DOJ officials recommended that he be fired. I mean, if you read the memo written by the Deputy Director of the Justice Department, the Deputy Attorney General, it reads like it was written by Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. He said "We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a decline criminal investigation." The director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument but without a trial. It's a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do. His case for replacing him had nothing to do -- these are all the things that benefited Donald Trump according to the democrats.
And so now, democrats are running around saying this is the second coming of Richard Nixon. It's kind of hard to do that when he - when the reasons were all the reasons you guys were complaining about Comey.
BENNETT: Is it, Marc? That's a pretext. What he's firing for him now is the fact that he is running an investigation into the Russian connections to the Trump administration. So whatever the reason, we may never know the -
THIESSEN: But the person (INAUDIBLE) do that.
BENNETT: Well, we may never know the real reason. What we need now is a special prosecutor.
MACCALLUM: But, you know, here - but here's the - here's one of the many issues -- that call is going to be made over and over and over and over again, and we're going to hear a lot of calls for a special prosecutor. But what strikes me about this is, as you point out, the only time that an FBI Director has ever been fired was Sessions under William Clinton, and that was for ethics issues, it was a very different sort of matter. So this is very unprecedented. But one other thing that is very unprecedented is to have a Presidential Election where both candidates are under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. That in and of itself put us in waters that we have never been in before.
So James Comey, because he did not opt to resign when it became very clear that this investigation was problematic, shall we say, as Jim Kallstrom documented quite clearly, decided to sort of go charter through these uncharted waters and speak out in different moments, ticking off the Hillary Clinton campaign, ticking off the Donald Trump campaign, making people think that he was very political. I think it's the first time in so long that every American can tell you who the head of the FBI is. I mean, in most cases, they're pretty quiet. They stick to their work and in this case, he has, you know, for better or worse, become an extremely political figure in this country.
So, Matt, is that perhaps one of the reasons why a clean, fresh start was needed at the FBI in this environment?
BENNETT: Look, that's possible, and I do find myself in the unusual circumstance of being on television decrying the firing of Jim Comey, somebody, I agree with you, Martha, played an - played an inappropriate role in the election. However, what we're talking about is now, today.
What is going on now? And my concern is that if there is not a special prosecutor, an independent commission to look into these serious allegations of Russians involvement in our election, then we - then we have a real problem.
MACCALLUM: But the investigative structure for that is still ongoing. That does not change because Jim Comey is not leading it, and in fact, when all of this dies down, he may be very glad to not have to deal with any of that anymore, at least for a while. Marc, one last thought then I'm going to go back to Judge Napolitano quickly.
THIESSEN: Sure. No, I mean, the question is - I mean, how does Trump benefit from this? If anything, it's much harder for him. Number one, he's going to have to go and find somebody to take this job. Who the heck wants this portfolio? It's going to be very hard to find somebody to take on - to take on this task. Two, he's got to get them confirmed. Can you - you just saw Chuck Schumer's press conference. Can you imagine the field day democrats are going to have with this - with this confirmation hearing? How they're going to use this as a platform for all these political charges against Trump? So, there's no upside to this for Donald Trump, except that - and on top of that, he's going to have to - you know, they're going to be using this for attacks on him and questioning his integrity. So he's - and he's got a lot of big things to do. He's got to get health care reform through, he's got to get tax reform through. This is a huge distraction and chaos thrown into the mix.
MACCALLUM: His job just got a lot more difficult. Gentlemen, thank you. Stand by.
THIESSEN: Thank you, Martha.
MACCALLUM: Let me bring in the judge and then I've got to go to Bill Gavin, who's also on the phone but I know you're chomping at the bit because you've been nodding at a lot of what we're talking about. What's on your mind?
NAPOLITANO: Yes, I've been agreeing with you and with what a lot of our colleagues have been saying. Just because Jim Comey is fired does not mean that the investigation will -- of the alleged involvement of the Trump campaign with the Russian intelligence will skip a beat. Jim Comey was, you know, five steps above that investigation. The investigators on the ground will actually feel liberated because it will be less political. They will be looking for a clean sort of impression in the FBI that they are not political tools because their new director, however this may be, will not be associated with the person who put his thumb on the scale during the presidential campaign.
MACCALLUM: I want to get a quick thought. The part of the presidents letter where he says, while I greatly appreciate, this is Donald Trump, the president of the United States, letter to the director, Jim Comey, firing him. In paragraph two, says while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you were not able to effectively lead the bureau. Parse that for me.
NAPOLITANO: Very, very troubling. And it tells me that there's more here than meets the eye, and I don't know why he put it in there. It almost sounds like one of his tweets. He can certainly conclude as the president of the United States that the director of the FBI is no longer able to effectively lead it, which is what he said in there. But to put in there, by the way, you exonerated me is almost as if, well, now I'm exonerated and I can't be investigated. I don't think Donald Trump personally is being investigated by the FBI. But if he is, the language in that letter is not going to lift that investigation from him.
MACCALLUM: Thank you, judge. All right. Let's go to Gavin, who was on the phone -- oh, he's live. Good to have you with us Bill Gavin, joining us, former assistant director of the New York FBI, your reaction to this big story tonight, Bill?
BILL GAVIN, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: This is a phenomenal event that occurred in only once in your lifetime. The very fact that Jim Comey was fired by the president, I feel badly for him, but at the same time, Martha, it's something that had to happen. Jim Comey is a bright guy. He's an ethical guy. But the bottom line is, when he made a prosecuted opinion in an investigative matter, he made a mistake. We all make mistakes in life. This was a big one that was obvious to everybody.
MACCALLUM: But he claims that Loretta Lynch had essentially removed herself from that decision by stepping onto that plane on the tarmac with former President Bill Clinton. And that he was basically taking over what he needed to take over because she stepped aside. She left him holding the bag. That's what he would argue, I'll imagine.
GAVIN: He would argue that, Martha. But I believe as the head of an investigative agency which -- even if she called him and said I want you to render the prosecuted opinion because I can no longer do that, he needs to toss that ball back into the Justice Department to whoever is in charge when she removed herself and to make the prosecuted decision. He had an investigation going that was an inquiry, not an investigation. He had no subpoena power. He had no real way to get at what the facts are. But the fact that he made a prosecuted opinion was in my estimation not the best decision anybody could have made.
MACCALLUM: Bill Gavin, thank you very much. Good to have it here. So today's firing of FBI director James Comey is the culmination of tumultuous events surrounding the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Also, the simultaneous investigation in to the Trump campaign, and all of that wrap up in the 2016 election. Trace Gallagher, live in our west coast newsroom with a look back at how we arrived at the events of today. Trace?
TRACE GALLAGHER, FOX NEWS: And Martha, it's very critical to go over the timeline because as you've been talking about, the genesis of the Comey firing dates back to July 5th of last year when Director Comey held a news conference saying the FBI had completed its investigation into Hillary Clinton's private server and was passing it along to the department of justice to decide whether or not to prosecute. But during the very same news conference, Comey concluded that Clinton had broken no laws and instead was simply careless in handling sensitive or highly classified information. Then, Director Comey said this. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: Critics accused him of simultaneously passing along the case to the attorney general and then passing along his judgment. Later that summer while investigating the sexting scandal involving former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the feds confiscated a laptop belonging to Weiner and Clinton advisor Huma Abedin. Then in late October, or ten days before the election, Comey writes the letter to members of Congress reopening the Clinton email investigation saying emails found on Weiner's laptop were potentially incriminating. Clinton's demand that the FBI release all the information it had was denied, and she still believes to this day the Comey letter may have cost her the election. But Comey's October surprise was followed by a November bombshell when just before the election, he writes another letter to Congress saying after further review the FBI did not find anything new on the laptop. Now fast-forward to last week when Director Comey testified on Capitol Hill about the emails saying that Huma Abedin forwarded hundreds of thousands of emails to her husband's laptop, including some with classified information. Today, the FBI corrected Comey's statement telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that only a small number of emails had been forwarded and classified emails had not been forwarded. Martha.
MACCALLUM: Trace, thank you very much. All right. Let's go back to Karl Rove, who is standing by. Karl, you know, you had interaction with James Comey when you were in the Bush administration. Take us back to that, you know, sort of debate that was pretty heated involving attorney general John Ashcroft, and how it sort of affected the way you viewed the current -- now former FBI director.
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah. Well, set the background, there was a critical national security information collection program that needed to be periodically revised, revisited, renewed, and the attorney general had to sign the renewal. And attorney general Ashcroft was ill and in the hospital, unbeknownst to the White House. He was so ill that authority had been passed to Comey as his deputy to act as the attorney general. The president calls up. General Ashcroft in the hospital says we need to reauthorize the program. I'm going to send Andy and Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel over to you. He says come on over. When they show up, there is Comey who says Ashcroft is so ill that he's not going to be able to sign this renewal, and if you force him to re-sign the renewal, I will resign, it will be bigger than Watergate. It'll be bigger than the Saturday night massacre.
Now, this kind of program had constant revisions in it. Lawyers from the intelligence committees, the White House, the Justice Department are constantly going over this program. So it could have been just as easy for him to call up and say, hey, I understand the president called General Ashcroft. He's so ill. Authority has devolved onto me. I've got some concerns, can I come over and visit with you so we can get this thing renewed, but I've got some concerns that we've got to resolve before I'm willing to sign a renewal. So I thought he's a hot dog to be precise. And I thought so in July when he acted in an entirely appropriate way. I think he also acted as a hot dog in an inappropriate way in October when he intruded back into the election.
I don't agree with some of the comments earlier that he probably agonized over this. I think he liked being in the middle of this. I think he liked being a figure of great public import. I think he liked acting in a bold yet condescending way about resolving Hillary Clinton situation and then living up to his obligations to let the Congress know that he'd reopened the investigation or the inquiry. So, you know, last week when we saw him on television, all those old feelings about this guy has a big sense of himself came back as he sat there agonizing in front of the American people over what he had done incorrectly in July, and incorrectly in October.
MACCALLUM: I would take a temperature, you know, as someone who spent a lot of time in the White House. Often you'll get tea leaves, you know. Oh, there might be something happening with Jim Comey. Sending out, you know, sort of some balloons to kind of soften the fall a little bit. This feels very much, Karl, like something that happened very, very quickly. That a decision was made in the president desk and the letters were fired off, the Rosenstein letter had quite a bit of thought put into it. So perhaps, you know, that one had a little bit of time in the making, but why the rush? Why now? Why the way it was handled as if something happened yesterday and the decision came down as a result?
ROVE: Now, we're reading tea leaves, so it's hard to read tea leaves.
ROVE: But Rosenstein is confirmed in late April, seated at the Justice Department, conducts his investigation, takes them several weeks to do so, two or three weeks. Presents the letter to the White House, it's a very powerful letter. I think well-reasoned and well-argued, makes a credible case. Now, how the White House then decided if we're going to do it and do it now, I don't know. But they obviously decided to move quickly. The part of this that is well written, well sculpted, well thought out is Rosenstein's letter. I think the president made a mistake by putting that phrase into his letter. He may have made a mistake by acting so precipitously because were in the middle of a lot of other big things, but he acted. And as a result, the pressure is going to be on.
I think there couple of ironies here. I think the director, the deputy Director McCabe, is going be very difficult not to make him the acting director because it will looked partisan. Sure his white friend for office is a Democrat, sure he's a career guy close to Comey, but the questions will grow if -- will only grow if he's not allowed to be the acting director. There's going need to be something done. There is an investigation going on about contacts between some people and the Russians, obviously, no collusion with the campaign, the president is not involved in this.
MACCALLUM: But that investigation is ongoing. I mean, we heard Sally Yates, we heard James Clapper, they said we can't talk about that. That's an ongoing investigation, a lot of discussion about the fact that Jim Comey over the course of the campaign would not speak specifically about the investigation and to all of that. So, I mean, you know, you can certainly see why this is going to give Democrats.
ROVE: Oh, absolutely.
MACCALLUM: --plenty of fodder. I mean, my desk is littered with every single statement that we've got stacked up from Democrats talking about how this is like the Sunday massacre. And you heard Chuck Schumer go through Sally Yates -- he's like connect the dots. Take a look, people.
ROVE: Well, look, again, I say that's a lot of baloney. He picks out a U.S. attorney for the southern district in New York, and tries to make it as a bad deal. President Obama fired over 90 U.S. attorneys that were put in office by George W. Bush. Was that a crime against humanity? No, this is politics. But I agree with you, Martha. They're going to make the most out of it.
MACCALLUM: And they're going to say President Obama team was not under any sort of investigation at that time.
ROVE: Well, isn't it ironic that the man that Democrats despised last year, particularly in October, the man they hated is now the man that they're using as an excuse to say we need to have a special prosecutor? I think the FBI is fully capable of conducting this investigation. The question is going to be when they arrive at whatever their conclusion is, and they turn it over to the Justice Department, the attorney general's recuse himself, will the American people look at Rod Rosenstein or whoever else is involved in this and their explanation of what they go forward with, let the chips fall where they are, but will they have confidence at the right thing was done? And we don't know that today. But the pressures is on a lot of people, and Rod Rosenstein, the acting director of the FBI, and whoever the president chooses to be the permanent director, boy, lots of pressure in all three of those individuals.
MACCALLUM: Since the beginning of this story. As Marc Thiessen said, the president made a very difficult choice today, one that he's going to have to explain, as you say, Karl, in a lot of detail. So, thank you, Karl. Stand by. Joining me now, I want to bring in Ron Hosko, the former assistant director of the FBI. He worked for the former FBI director James Comey. Mr. Hosko, good to have you here today, your thoughts on the news?
RON HOSKO, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE FBI: Shocking, Martha. I can't say I am too surprised, but shocking that it came this way. I've been told the director is traveling today. I think the people in the FBI building are shocked, dismayed, trying to figure out their way forward.
MACCALLUM: Are they happy or unhappy though because there's a complicated story on that within the FBI.
HOSKO: Well, there is a complicated story. I think there are some and we've heard some reference to it tonight, the former assistant director Bill Gavin talking about the notion that the director went too far back in July, and then committed himself to a course of action in October that was widely criticized as well. You know, one of the things that -- first, the director I believe wanted to stay for his entire term. In fact, he was quite proud of going on the road, giving a speech and saying here's how many days I have left in the FBI, as a source of pride. He wanted to fulfill that entire term. So I think no one's is as hurt by this as badly as Jim Comey, who saw this as the pinnacle of his public service career.
And certainly they're going to be some in the FBI who thought he went too far in July. That is, I think, reasonable minds could agree, the promise of the prosecutor. There are some who thought Jim Comey dove on a grenade that had Loretta Lynch's name on it. I'm within that group that Loretta Lynch failed in her meeting with Bill Clinton, and Jim Comey decided to take it upon himself. Now we're seeing perhaps that was part of the price he had to pay, or as being paid back today. So I think the FBI will move forward. I hope. You know, going to Senator Schumer's comments earlier, his call for a special prosecutor only gets us partway there. Somebody's going to have to be named as a replacement director for the FBI, and good luck to the person who raises their hand for that job, good luck to them.
MACCALLUM: What do you think about Andrew McCabe, who is the deputy now, and who may very well be put forward for that job?
HOSKO: Yeah. I don't see Andy being put forward for the job. He's already been the subject of criticism of questions about his wife running for local office here in D.C., and some money that came from the local governor's office. So I think there are concerns that may disqualify Andy, and probably doesn't want to put himself through that. I think you're going to have to look to somebody outside of the organization. Andy is a very capable guy, and the FBI has very capable leaders. And rest assure, the investigation of Russia's influence will go forward. But as Mr. Rhodes suggested what the FBI needs in any of their investigations is prosecutor support. That is, you know, robust. So if they need national security letters, they need subpoenas, they need search warrants, they need prosecutors to help get them down that road, and it's critical that that support continue.
MACCALLUM: Ron Hosko, thank you very much for being with us tonight. So back with some new developments that are breaking from the White House, our chief White House correspondent, John Roberts, rejoins us from the south lawn. John?
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPINDENT: Good evening to you, Martha. You know, this obviously was the president's decision because he is the one that makes the decision whether or not the FBI director stays. It was the same decision that President Clinton made back in 1993 when he fired William Sessions, the only other FBI director to have been fired, but the White House released kind of pointing to Rod Rosenstein who is the deputy attorney general as being the one who lost confidence in the FBI director. Remember, he was only confirmed for the job back on April the 25th, between then and now, a period of about 15 days has transpired. But I'm told by sources inside the White House that upon taking office, the deputy attorney general, again, Rosenstein, assess the situation and concluded that the FBI director had lost his confidence.
So you can paint one scenario where the deputy attorney general comes in and as his first order of business, he decides to take a look at the FBI director because the deputy attorney general is the FBI director's direct boss and said, you know what? I don't have confidence in this person. I think we need to get rid of him. But then, you could also paint a scenario that that's an awfully snap decision to make on your first day in office, and maybe this goes back long before April 25th when Rosenstein was confirmed. Let's go back to July of 2016, when Comey came out and gave that lengthy press conference where he ticked off that litany of horrible that he believed that Hillary Clinton had undertaken, and then at the end of it said, by the way, I don't think that we should pursue charges against her.
And then, candidate Donald Trump didn't take too kindly to that. He did turn about 180 degrees at the end of October when Comey reopened that investigation. But you can paint a scenario, Martha, where Donald Trump, then candidate Donald Trump, now President Donald Trump, potentially has been gunning for Comey for a long time, but really couldn't take any action even as president because Comey's immediate boss at the Department of Justice was not in place and he had to wait until you got his boss in place, and you had to wait until you had a boss with the integrity and the support on both sides of the aisle because he was confirmed 94-6 to pull the trigger and get rid of Comey. So if I were a betting man, I'd say this goes back a long way prior to April the 25th.
MACCALLUM: Fascinating. John Roberts, thank you very much. Let's have a quick comment and I will bring the panel.
NAPOLITANO: Let me suggest another scenario.
NAPOLITANO: That Rod Rosenstein reviewed the Hillary Clinton file, which he had never seen before and decided that Comey's judgment was utterly irregular and inappropriate, and that maybe she should have been and still can be indicted for espionage, the failure to safeguard state secrets while she was secretary of state.
MACCALLUM: All right, we will see. Let's bring in our panel. We'll go to Marie Harf right now, and Dana Loesch. Welcome to both of you. Marie, let me start with you. What's your reaction to this news?
MARIE HARF, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Martha, I think I'm still a little in shock. I am truly, truly stunned by this. And I've never been a fan of Jim Comey as you know. But I still think that this was pretty outrageous. And I'm not sure I buy the argument that the Trump administration was so concerned about how Secretary Clinton was treated by Jim Comey. I'm not sure that passes the smell test. But for me, I wonder if the last straw wasn't Jim Comey testimony, not the most recent one this week, but the week before, when he was asked about whether -- how he felt about possibly influencing the election, he didn't say I don't think I had any impact. He said I feel nauseous at the thought that I might have. And we know that President Trump really hates when people, whether it's Hillary Clinton or commentators, question the legitimacy of his victory.
MACCALLUM: I didn't take that comment at all like that. I thought he was saying, you know, that the idea because he felt so strongly that the FBI should not have any influence, and he knew that there has been so many roller coaster moves that made people feel that way that that was what made him mildly nauseous. I don't think he was suggesting that the Trump presidency made him feel that way.
HARF: I don't think he was either, Martha. I don't think he was either. But I think instead of saying I don't think I had any impact, I just wonder if in this long history as John just laid out from the White House. This goes back months and months and months of President Trump and how he views Jim Comey.
MACCALLUM: I think the timing.
HARF: Try to find -- the reason I'm trying to find some reason here is because the timing is so interesting. Why now? None of us.
MACCALLUM: I think Rod Rosenstein may be the answer to that because he was just confirmed and just took over. Dana Loesch, your thoughts?
DANA LOESCH, THE BLAZE TV HOST: Well, Martha, I say this is someone who is very constructively critical of President Trump during the primary. He's not my guy in the primary. And I've never been a big fan of James Comey. But does Trump -- is he ever going to win with the left? I think that's the big question here. First, Democrats did not like James Comey. They wanted him out. So Trump now fires him and they're still unhappy. It's like no matter what the administration does, there's always perpetual outrage. And if anyone thought that somehow the president was removing Comey as a way to cover his backside, well, you have Andrew McCabe now who stepped up in his place, and I wouldn't exactly describe him as a conservative who is particularly friendly to the Trump administration. So if that was the decision, if that was the motivation for his decision-making process to cover his backside, it seems like that was a poor way to go about it, removing Comey. So I just don't know. When are Democrats happy? They said that the guy helping Russia at first, and then now it's like, oh, my gosh, as David described it as a coup, for crying out loud.
MACCALLUM: I just want to bring in a piece of information that we just got which goes to the dramatic nature of this, and it goes back in part to what Maria was saying about the timing. The New York Times is reporting that Jim Comey was in place in Los Angeles already. He was a big FBI recruiting event. There were TV's in the back of the room, and he learned of his firing when the news started flashing across the screen. So that's a pretty awkward and uncomfortable moment that transpired. And then we saw the firing out of these letters coming from the White House. And we know that Sean Spicer sort of instantly started telling the reporters what had happened, and then we saw the three letters which came out from President Trump, a brief letter then attorney general's Sessions, and then the longer more sort of formative thinking letter from Rod Rosenstein. Marie, having been a spokesperson who brought news to the reporters, your quick thoughts on that?
HARF: That is really stunning, Martha. I mean, that is not how the process should work. And whether you like Jim Comey or not, he has served this country, he has served the FBI. I agree with Dana. I have never been a big fan of Jim Comey, although I never thought that he should get fired. I thought he should be a better FBI director. But, I've been seeing some reporting that this has been in the works for some time. If that's true, Jim Comey shouldn't have been in L.A. and shouldn't have learned about on the news. That's just -- that's bad form. That's not how you treat people who've been serving your administration. I'm fairly shocked by that, truly.
LOESCH: Yeah. It's kind of an amazing rollout, that's the way -- that's the manner in which he found out that he was being let go. One thing that I wanted to bring up, Martha, as I know that there are some elected officials like -- who were saying, look, we need to have an independent investigation. I think this is really important for everybody no matter what side of the aisle, there on to understand. If there is an allegation of some sort of involvement that rushes and evolved to the level that it's affecting a presidential election, then let's have an investigation, and let's let the truth bear out because we can't just go believing something based on accusation. We have to have evidence. And I think everybody's fine with an investigation. But we can't sit here and have these petty witch hunts and be going and having outrage over everything. With Comey, I wish that there were some people who would make up their mind. Either they were mad that Trump kept him, they're mad that he's fired, I think that we can all agree maybe there's a better way to dismiss him, but I find that the outrage kind of stunning.
MACCALLUM: Dana and Marie, thank you very much. Good to have both of you here. Let's bring in for one more round, Karl Rove and Judge Napolitano. Your reaction to the way he learned the news if that's true?
NAPOLITANO: I agree with Marie Harf. It's reprehensible that he should've learned about it that way. He's a human being who does have feelings, and did work hard for the country. Even I called for his resignation a long time ago. Somebody should have called him and said here's what's about to come down. You probably shouldn't be giving that speech.
MACCALLUM: Which brings us back, Karl, to the urgency of this, and the oddness of the way that it rolled out, and you just have to wonder if there is some piece of news, some information that landed in the White House that got this ball rolling and meant that it had to happen instantly.
ROVE: You know what, I don't think so. I think we've seen this before. They were ill prepared on the first travel ban. They popped it out without telling the secretary of homeland security that it was coming. They did in a news conference at the Pentagon where the secretary of defense didn't even know what they were going to do there. I think too often, this White House sort of ax without thinking it through. And I think they probably got the Rosenstein letter, they got the Sessions input, the White House counsel said go and the president of the United States said let's do it and do it right now. I don't think this was an effort to embarrass him. And I agree with the judge. He deserved better than this even though I'm not a fan of Comey, anybody who served our country as long as he had deserved to be told.
MACCALLUM: Yeah, but I think, Karl, you know, in the situation, somebody got to say where is the FBI director right now? There's one story out there that they went over to his office to deliver the letter and he wasn't there. I mean, that -- it's like can't everybody just sort of take a breath and maybe get a little bit of an indication to him and get somebody who may be out in California who can say we need to talk to you right after? The president is on the phone? I mean, it's odd.
ROVE: Yeah, absolutely. Look, we've got a White House where process doesn't matter as much as it has in previous administrations. In previous administrations, there is sort of a focus. There is an order, there is a process. This kind of thing would have been discussed, how are we going to do it, there be people in charge, there be a meeting, they'd work it out. And here we get the idea that it just sort of happened. And a lot of things like that had happened so far in the 100 some odd days in the Trump administration. My fervent hope is that they become a little bit more discipline, a little bit more focused, and that they think through moments like this in order to -- this will leave an impression for good or for ill for a long time to come.
MACCALLUM: Let me bring in the statement by Senator Burr, it says I am troubled -- this is Richard Burr of North Carolina, the head of the Senate intel committee. I'm troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey's termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by our committee, and my interactions with the director and the bureau under his leadership, he and the FBI have always been straightforward with our committee. Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI director I can recall on my tenure on the Congressional intelligence committee. And he goes on to say, his dismissal I believe is a loss for the bureau and for the nation.
NAPOLITANO: That is very, very profound from a Republican chair of the Senate intel committee who receives secret classified briefings from the intelligence committee and from the FBI. If Republicans start speaking the way Senator Burr did, you're going to see an onslaught of opinions that an independent counsel needs to be appointed and that decision will be made by Rod Rosenstein, the person who triggered the firing of Jim Comey.
MACCALLUM: I mean, separate, Karl, from the investigation that the FBI is doing, you have these parallel investigations going on in the House and in the Senate. So the idea that sort of chopping off the head of this -- you know, however they see it, is going to end that investigation, is just simply not true. And Senator Burr is deeply involved in this. He's not running again. He has lots of freedom to say what he believes in all of these situations. What you make of the statement?
ROVE: Well, I'm like the judge. I took it as a positive development though I have a different twist on it. I think and I thought for a long time that we are going to have an FBI investigation and is going to come to a resolution. And we don't know where that's going to go. But if the FBI concludes that there is no action, then the public -- part of the public is not going to have confidence in that private decision and that private review. They're going to have a greater confidence if there is committee on the hill and the Senate intelligence committee is the most likely, where Republicans and Democrats come together in an exhaustive review of all the evidence and come to a largely similar conclusion. And I think Richard Burr by saying what he said it's going to simply add greater confidence in whatever the Senate intelligence committee ends up doing. He and Mark Warner have worked very closely, the ranking Democrat have worked very closely on this investigation thus far, and I think the Senate intelligence committee is going to where we see the adults in charge.
MACCALLUM: A stunning development today, the summary firing of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I want to thank Judge Napolitano, Karl Rove, all of our guest tonight. I mean, this development is huge. It will have repercussions that the president will be hearing about for quite some time. Continuing coverage here tonight on Fox News, we'll see you tomorrow on "The Story."
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